Hot Media Action

In a lot of cases, when I look at issues that I can’t make up my mind on, I’ll sometimes look at who’s standing on which side of the room, and make up my mind by choosing who I’d be more comfy standing with than against.

Today, I’m standing, uncomfortably, with Jeff Jarvis on the recent “indecency tax” passed by the House.

It shouldn’t take much explanation why I’m standing with Jeff; he’s a good guy, we see the world in much the same way (although he’s like a foot taller than I am), and on a fundamental level, I don’t like the idea of some pecksniff fining me out of business because I said a dirty word. And I doubly don’t like the idea of handing the government a tool that could be used to marginalize and criminalize speech…when we’d be told that a modern-day Lenny Bruce is being jailed for swearing, not for challenging the government politically.

So why, exactly, am I uncomfortable?
Because I was listening to Kevin & Bean on KROQ the other morning as I drove Littlest Guy to school. It was Valentine’s Day, and they were taking calls on “the worst Valentine’s Day stories” – a women whose live-in boyfriend had burned down her parent’s house when the candles he set up in their bedroom as a romantic gesture set the room on fire while he was out getting champagne. Very funny stuff indeed…and then they explained that they’d give her a copy of ‘All Anal Action v3′ as a prize, and I quickly shut the radio off and had some ‘splaining to do.

Yes, I can listen to CD’s or NPR when I have the kids in the car.

Yes, there are choices.

But somehow, when I think about this, or the New York DJ’s Opie and Anthony who egged a couple into having sex in a church (where they were arrested), I kind of squirm a bit.

Where’s the bottom? Is the market really the only thing that we can legitimately use to determine where the bottom is?

I don’t know. I do know that I’m damn uncomfortable with much that I see in the mass media today. I’m equally uncomfortable with government censorship.

Are those my only choices?

43 thoughts on “Hot Media Action”

  1. It’s all about feedback mechanisms. How does a radio station (or any other person or organization) know when they’ve gone to far? When they get their hand (metaphorically) slapped. How do radio stations get feedback?

    The first and primary mechanism is advertisers. If advertisers warn the station, and particularly if they actually pull ads, that has an immediate bottom line effect. Enough of this and the station will change its standards. So call the advertisers, and explain that you will not be buying their product because their association with the morning show indicates that they have standards incompatible with yours. Over time, enough of these calls will get the advertisers to pressure the radio station to change.

    The second mechanism that they see is audience ratings. The reason this matters is because advertisers will pay less for ads if the station is less popular. If you get called for a radio listenership survey, take it and tell the truth about what you do and don’t listen to and why. Over time, the combination of multiple bad survey results will, if you are in the majority, cause the station to change its behavior without adverse side effects.

    The third mechanism that they see is direct feedback. Call the station and explain to them that you have stopped listening to their morning show because you don’t feel that you can do so with kids in the car due to their inappropriate content. Over time, the combination of multiple callers will, if you are in the majority, cause the station to change its behavior without adverse side effects.

    The final feedback mechanism is direct penalties, either fines or loss of license or what have you, which are only imposed by the government. These are very, very dangerous to employ, because the side effects limit everyone’s freedom. Government acts through force, pure and simple, and there is no way to refine it. If the government has the power to determine what one person may say on the radio, it has that power for every person. If that doesn’t send chills down your spine, you need to read more history.

    The basic idea is that government action is quick and definite, thus satisfying. But it’s playing with fire, and you could easily get burned. If the government can prevent indecent speech on the radio, why not on blogs?

  2. >>Where’s the bottom? Is the market really the only thing that we can legitimately use to determine where the bottom is?

    Yes.

    What really gets me is all the fake prudishness. People who get all worked up over websites like “German Goo Girls” will bend over backwards trying to justify mass murder on an industrial scale (see Dresden entry). These same people people will try to use _the same institution_ that commited the mass murder to try and enforce their notion of morality at gunpoint.

    Its both hysterically funny and deeply sad.

  3. What Jeff is saying is basically how “the marketplace of ideas” is supposed to work. Certainly, as Holmes and Brandeis originally figured it, a free exchange of ideas will expose absurdities. What they may not have bargained on was that vulgarity is another matter: I forget who said that no one went broke underestimating the American public’s credulity or bad taste but it’s true enough.

    And, to be blunt about it, do you want to entrust matters of taste, art and political speech to some government bureaucracy? (With the usual exceptions, of course, for speech that is libelous, &c. &c. and worthy of a lawsuit).

    Best control mechanism is probably on your dashboard: change stations or put in a CD of your choosing. Certainly it may be embarrasing to have a child hear some of this nonsense but if you’re at all capable a parent, and that seems to be so, then he’ll understand it as vulgar stupidity. Not as forbidden fruit.

    It’s kind of a shame that I had to go to law school to learn how our checks and balances really have worked for over 200 years, and I’d hate to think we’d whittle it down now because of some shock jock.

  4. I think its ok to make a few words illegal, make some minimal amount illegal, like they used to do with the “seven words”. Or still do.

    The marketplace will not stop it, because even though 98% of people don’t like it, 2% is enough to make the radio stations wealthy.

    It is like trying to say, leave it to the marketplace to stop cock fighting, or murder. Enough people want to do it that just counting on it being too awful for some people isn’t enough.

    It may sound corny to some, but we have to protect children, just like we have to protect people from someone yelling fire in a crowded theater.

    Just because it can infringe on free speech doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. We have to enforce some standards, and we should try to reach some consensus to do so that respects both free speech and the harm it can do. Life is not black and white, except when it is. :)

  5. I second everything Jeff Medcalf said. He’s a man after my own heart.

    This is a perfect example of the distinction between Voice and Exit. In a democracy, government measures give people Voice — there can be a public debate about rules where everyone (ideally) gets a say, and at the end of the debate the majority decides what rules apply to everybody. Markets, in contrast, give people Exit — the ability to opt out of things they don’t like. You can change the channel, you can listen to a CD, etc.

    Voice leads to a never-ending all-against-all struggle where everything is politicized as various groups try to impose their will on everyone else; Exit allows people to simply walk away, allowing them to live their lives in greater harmony than they would if it were a matter of Voice. It’s civil society versus uncivil politics. Which would you choose, all other things being equal?

  6. I don’t like the state getting involved, for the most part.

    But I think the “Exit” answer is too facile and pat. If AL had known what was coming, he wouldn’t have been listening to that station at that time. By the time he knew, it was too late. You can’t avoid what you don’t know is coming.

    How do you “Exit” folks deal with that? Only watch the Disney channel and listen to cheezy lite-rock (KOST)? How can I make good choices if I don’t know what the standards are?

  7. To Rob Lyman, the standards should be your own good taste and preferences. I’m not easy with someone else setting standards because they can end up being those of the loudest blue-nose.

    (And, might I coin a phrase, it takes a truly dirty mind to be a censor. Certainly those who see obscenity in Squire Bob Spongepants or whatever that was are very eager to see it.)

    To A.L., an afterthought. Perhaps a good starting essay on the background and beauties of the First Amendment — and a teaching point for your son — would be to dig Anthony Lewis’ “Make No Law”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0679739394/qid=1108610783/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/002-9482016-7502409 out of the library and read Chapters 6-10, in which he reviews the history that most under-appreciated concept and has some of the choicest excerpts from the free-speech dissents of Brandeis and Holmes — two jurists who (to borrow a metaphor from H. Beam Piper) are worthy to drink at the same table in Valhalla with Jefferson and Madison and George Mason.

    T.J. has a point — maybe you didn’t know what was coming on that radio program — but kids are going to be exposed to every lapse of good taste possible. Maybe they can put it in context if they have a context in which to place it. Certainly Sturgeon’s Law — 90% of everything is crap — is a good starting point.

    If his reaction to that program’s full implications is, _ewww_, that’s really _gross_, then that’s a good start.

  8. A prankster friend of mine once tricked me into clicking on a link to goatse.cx. I only made that mistake once, and never again. Does that mean that obscene websites should be banned? It’s the same thing with AL’s unfortunate radio experience.

    Personally I don’t even listen to the radio. There’s no bloody reason to in this day and age, aside from as a way to get news while travelling. We live in an era of unprecedented user-end control over media selection. I’m not absolutely opposed to minimum legal standards of decency in situations where selective filtering is not possible. For instance I support bans on pornographic displays in public places because it’s not possible for me to manually blank-out certain regions of my vision when I walk down the street. But when we’re talking about a medium where all it takes is the push of a button to remove the offending material, there is no excuse for hollering for the government to do something about it. That’s just irresponsible.

  9. OT, but I feel like starting a fight with a professional:

    Bob Harmon — I don’t know a lot about Brandeis, but I do know that Holmes is overrated. In fact I’d go so far as to say he’s scary.

    “I hate facts. I always say the chief end of man is to form general propositions — adding that no general proposition is worth a damn.”
    — Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

    The man is a radical skeptic and pragmatist/intuitionist. That is not an admirable quality in a judge, IMO. Oh yeah, and he was an enthusiastic eugenicist. Funny how you don’t hear his opinion in Buck v Bell trumpeted too often:

    “We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes…Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

    *shudder*

  10. Well, yes, Matt, he was a product of his times, which went from being a Union Army veteran to grappling with eugenics and free speech in the course of 90 years’ lifespan, more or less. And Holmes came down on the wrong side on the free-speech cases in _Schenck_ and _Debs_ before he started filing dissents in later such cases. And, for that matter, Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholding aristocrat, and Earl Warren was a leading advocate for interning American citizens in wartime. So?

    If we’re going to take anyone’s works and words out of their original context, and I am going to just as well as you, then let’s try and find something that is still going to be useful as case law today. _Buck v. Bell_ is discredited. Holmes’ dissents in _Abrams_ et seq are not.

    Again, to return to the original point in this thread, I would suggest we take whatever past wisdom that still fits our present-day sophistication, and apply it.

  11. I’m not thrilled about this either. Next thing you know, some idiot will be levying huge fines because some singer’s boob pops out of her too-tight outfit on TV, thus making the whole country look like a bunch of idiots on the international stage.

    Oh, wait….

    Stuff like that is ridiculous, IMO. The depressing this is, these measures apparently enjoy bipartisan support. Political Correctness meets The Moral Majority, and not for the first time, either.

    The proper response to trash is to complain to the radio station, then switch the dial. Given that kids tend to be in cars for most daylight hours, some radio stations will decide to pay the listener price, and others will see a profit opportunity and have the incentive to offer a 100% kid-safe radio station.

    Failing all that, you could just do what more and more people are doing – carry _your own radio station_ in the car disguised as an MP3 player that hooks into the car stereo.

    I see radio in general taking a serious beating over the next 10 years….

  12. I’m afraid that the observation that you simply cannot provide total protection to children is right.

    I recall taking my then-9-year-old son to see some kid’s film at an up-scale theater in London. All was well except for when he noticed a vending machine on the second-floor lobby. Available for just a pound, was an enormous variety of flavored condoms (lager & chips, curry, assorted fruits, etc.) The machine could have passed, certainly, for a candy vending machine.

    A curious little mind got a lesson that wasn’t scheduled for at least two years down the path.

    You do your best, but that’s no guarantee. It is, however, life.

    I’ve just written my congresswoman, putting her on notice that any more votes on her part for nonsense like the indecency fines will result in no more votes for her, from me.

  13. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

  14. Bob, and others,

    You missed my point. I meant, how do I keep my children from being exposed to this stuff when I don’t know what the standards of the radio station are? My preferences are fine as a guide, but they aren’t much use if the station stoops suddenly below them without warning.

    Politicians huff and puff about movies from time to time, but it’s fairly easy to keep younger kids away from the graphic stuff, thanks to a straighforward ratings system. Result: no FCC fines, no Movie Regulatory Authority, genuine consumer choice.

    Is the only possibe answer really “just deal with it”?

    (As an aside, the whole campaign-finance reform thing has made me a 1st Amendment cynic: I don’t see the point of protecting a radio station’s right to give away porn while regulating political advertising on that very same radio station. I can’t get excited about the FCC, which in its worst incarnation can’t be worse than the FEC. In no universe is the right to give away copies of “A**hole Explorers” or whatever more important than the right to say “Politician X is an a**hole”)

  15. I see it now – radio stations having to display G – PG – R – X -XXX rating on the brodcast channel display of every radio. Once tuned in you are required to push a sequence of buttons to listen in. Parental controls for radio channel lock outs becomes a requirement. How far do you want to go?

  16. So am I the only one that sees an issue at all?

    It seems like I am, so I need to go recalibrate a bit. But as a gedanken experiment for everyone…if they put a billboard up for the movie – “Anal Action v3″ – what would your reaction be?

    What about renting a projector and showing it on the side of a building (they do this with art films in Pasadena, it’s cool)??

    For me the issue isn’t the existence of the movie, or even of websites about the movie. In those cases, I would have had to go look for it and make a choice to watch it.

    The issue is broadcasting it in public; and while I’ll certainly agree that I have no right not to be offended, it seems like there ought to be a gap between that and broadcasting anal sex on the side of a building…and I can’t find one just yet.

    A.L.

  17. if they put a billboard up for the movie – “Anal Action v3″ – what would your reaction be?

    Call and complain to the billboard company?

  18. Bob Harmon — Yes he was a product of his times, but that’s a trivial statement since so are all of us to some degree. Are we supposed to excuse his overall monstrousness because he was shot through the heart and happened to come down on the right side a few times? (I have no great love for Jefferson either.) Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

    Buck v. Bell is discredited. Holmes’ dissents in Abrams et seq are not.”

    Which is unfortunate, since it’s “one of the most vile defenses of the correct position ever written”, as a lawyer I know once aptly put it. Let’s have a look, shall we?

    Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power, and want a certain result with all your heart, you naturally express your wishes in law, and sweep away all opposition. To allow opposition by speech seems to indicate that you think the speech impotent, as when a man says that he has squared the circle, or that you do not care wholeheartedly for the result, or that you doubt either your power or your premises. But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That, at any rate, is the theory of our Constitution.”

    Funny, I thought the theory of the constitution was that speech was not to be restricted because it was an inaliable right and restrictions on speech would lead to greater tyranny. Holmes’ opinion is not a bad pragmatic justification for free speech, but it’s got no basis in the constitution. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for consequentialist arguments, just not coming from judges — their job is to interperet the law as it is; unabashed radical skeptics like Holmes (inadvertantly or not) open the door to hell when they start putting their own pragmatic viewpoints into their official opinions.

    My admittedly shallow understanding is that Holmes (along with Learned Hand, who is also overrated but that’s another discussion) was one of the main spearheads of the school of jurisprudential thought that believed the judge’s subjective notion of justice should prevail, as long as it wasn’t explicitly contradicted by established legal authority. Welcome to judicial activism land. Ych.

    Rob Lyman — “My preferences are fine as a guide, but they aren’t much use if the station stoops suddenly below them without warning.”

    If a normally “clean” website I frequent suddenly posts a very vulgar and offensive article on it, should the government stop them from being allowed to do so? I should hope not. So with radio stations and TV channels. No relevent difference.

    I am totally cool with ratings systems, however, as long as that’s as far as it goes. Anything that condenses information so the consumer can make quick judgements about the content is peachy by me. A ratings system for radio channels would be a fine idea. Government is not the only option, and pretending it is just shows a lack of imagination.

  19. “But as a gedanken experiment for everyone…if they put a billboard up for the movie – “Anal Action v3″ – what would your reaction be?”

    Maybe you missed it, but I addressed this in my first response to Lyman. I have no problem with a ban on obscene images in public places where people don’t really have a choice but to see them. You can’t manually blank-out portions of your vision when you’re walking down the street. But it’s a whole other story when you have to actually choose to listen/view something.

  20. Justice Stevens on A.L.’s concerns:

    bq. _We have long recognized that each medium of expression presents special First Amendment problems. [The] broadcast media have established a uniquely pervasive presence in the lives of all Americans. Patently offensive, indecent material presented over the airwaves confronts the citizens, not only in public, but also in the privacy of the home, where the individual’s right to be left alone plainly outweighs the First Amendment rights of an intruder. Because the broadcast audience is constantly tuning in and out, prior warnings cannot completely protect the listener or viewer from unexpected program content. To say that one may avoid further offense by turning off the radio when he hears indecent language is like saying that the remedy for an assualt is to run away from the first blow._

    FCC v. Pacifica Foundation (the George Carlin case)

  21. No AL, you’re not the only one who sees an issue. Unlike a lot of commenters here, I’m not a libertarian; in fact, I’m profoundly mistrustful of libertarianism. It tends to dissolve the bonds of community that are necessary to the flourishing, if not the survival, of a _zoon politicon_. I support the FCCs efforts wholeheartedly and without reservation. In my view, a community has the right to express its morality in its laws. I have never objected, for example, to anti-sodomy laws. Not because I want the sex police stationed in people’s bedrooms (did that ever really happen anyway?) but because if a particular community disaproves of that behavior, it has the right to express that disapproval through its legislation. I would say the same about drug laws (sorry TJ and M Simon). I believe there are pragmatic reasons for drug prohibition, but there is an equally compelling moral case. If a community as a community considers drug use immoral, it has the right to express that view in its laws. To use an example perhaps more congenial to liberals: I have always thought “hate crime” legislation the hieght of absurdity. Is someone more dead if you kill him because he’s black or gay than if you kill him for his wallet or because he slept with your wife, or because you don’t like his shoes? Nonetheless, if a particular community as a community disapproves of or thinks immoral, the mindset that leads to hate crimes and does so to the point that it metes out greater penalties for hate killing than other kinds, that is that community’s right.

  22. Well, I think that a guy named “Armed Liberal” might have an alternative solution to the problem of assault…

    But seriously, I’m not saying the government is the only solution, I’m just saying there is a problem to which “don’t watch if you don’t like it” isn’t a real solution. No one here is for banning books, or regulating websites, or censoring movies, etc. We’re talking about something which, avoidibility-wise, lies in between a privatly-viewed DVD and a performance in the middle of the street. Perhaps an intermediate level of regulation is appropriate for an intermediatly “avoidable” content.

    I’d be happy with ratings systems, too, but of course for a live medium like radio, there would have to be some sort of penalty to keep people on the right side of the rating line, right?

    Also worth noting: we’ve had FCC “censorship” for many years now without the sky falling, so free-speech absolutists shouldn’t pretend that the choice is 100% libertinism or burkas. Again, I can’t get worked up about Howard Stern paying a fine from his vast fortune (although anyone who listens to him and is surprised could probably stand a couple of whacks with the Cluebat).

  23. I’m more of a fast feedback guy than a fines guy, myself. So I’m cool with ratings systems… and the Sirius/ XM Satellite Radio with categories makes this easier and easier.

    If you want a law from Congress, don’t jack the fines. Mandate that Satellite Radio have a “kid-safe” category or rating (plus technological filter option) which would allow people to tune in painlessly. The Sirius/ XM folks would then be given time to submit technical implementation plans & an enforcement frameworks for the FCC to use, with the ultimate penalty being deletion from this category.

    If you wanted to pass a law affecting public airwaves radio, you could force them to have web pages giving the sponsor names for every show they run, with working hyperlinks to the sponsors’ web site if one exists. Suddenly, your recourse options kick up a notch.

    In general, I prefer to have my fines levied by the market. They’re bigger for the big stuff (what government agency would have fined CBS over Rathergate the way their ratings drop has fined them?), and trivial for the minor stuff, and never out of step with public opinion. If you want to play Lenny Bruce because you think it has enough upside to offset the backlash “fines” why, go right ahead.

    That’s what radio stations are effectively doing now – that was the trade-off running another funnyman named Howard Stern, for instance, with “fines” coming on both a governmental and listenership level. Some stations even decided the cost WAS too high, and stopped featuring him (thus leaving Stern fans in certain markets bereft, and possibly contributing to “his new Satellite Radio direction”:http://money.cnn.com/2004/10/06/news/newsmakers/stern_sirius/?cnn=yes ). Sounds to me like the lawmakers are annoyed that some folks’ standards differ enough to make guys like Stern profitable, so they’re moving the goalposts to squish the emergent trend.

    Should those powers exist in government hands? Moving the goalposts like this certainly calls that into question, especially in an Internet age. And if they should exist in government hands, how do you regulate in a way that both protects people with kids in the car, and protects freedom of speech?

    They certainly don’t seem to be striking that balance.

    If you’re looking for another approach to liberal values, A.L., the principles of transparency and fast feedback strike me as the best places to begin.

    Your congresscritters aren’t beginning there – and that’s the real scandal.

  24. Fred — How can a community have rights? Only individuals can have rights. What you’re basically saying is “might makes right” — i.e. the majority should be allowed to dictate and their moral standards to the minority. Sorry, but I can’t regard this as a healthy political philosophy and luckily neither did the framers of the US Constitution.

    Lyman — “We’re talking about something which, avoidibility-wise, lies in between a privatly-viewed DVD and a performance in the middle of the street. Perhaps an intermediate level of regulation is appropriate for an intermediatly “avoidable” content.”

    Sorry, no. First you have to convince me how a radio station is fundamentally different than say, a blog. From here I can’t see any relevent difference.

  25. bq. _”So am I the only one that sees an issue at all?”_

    I don’t think you’re the only one who sees this an issue. I think you’re one of the few in minority that sees this as an issue warranting government regulation.

    Lets take it a step further. Radio Free America has been broadcasting and forcing their views on populaces for how long now? Most would say that’s different and I submit to you it isn’t. Radio Free America offends Castro to no end.

    bq. _”In my view, a community has the right to express its morality in its laws.”_

    Sure it does that’s why communities have zoning laws, require permits for gatherings, etc.. The difference is that is on a community level. Here is where your bill board fits A.L.

    On my final note there is absolutely no requirement that anyone own a radio, PC, television or any other device that disseminates information period. You may think their is a necessity or a requirement for these but there isn’t otherwise big government would make sure you have one implanted the day you arrive into this world. When people get over the assumption that this radio station or TV broadcast station belongs to me instead of someone else then the market place will take care of itself.

    On this one I’m with Joe – vote with your feet and vote with your complaints. The big flap about the super bowl and malfunctioning wardrobe should have been enough. If not the NFL would get the same vote from me that MLB does. I don’t watch and I don’t attend. Let the market place figure it out. When people tune out the market place suffers and all of a sudden that 1.5M to 2M commercial is suddenly reduced to $50 or none. Oh – I forgot we can’t live without the NFL, MLB, NBA etc.

  26. I can’t regard this as a healthy political philosophy and luckily neither did the framers of the US Constitution.

    Wow, that’s so utterly wrong I can’t begin to take it apart. How many of the original 13 states had fornication and sodomy laws? How many permitted divorce or polygamy? Good heavens, how many court opinions contained language to the effect that the government has a right to protect the morals of the community?

    On an originalist argument, you’re going to lose in a very big way.

  27. On the difference between radio and blogs:

    I’m only concerned about what my children see and hear; I don’t especially mind bad language or naked bodies myself. I can “pre-censor” blogs, books, rented videos, etc. for content and thus have a very large degree of control over them without any assistance from anyone.

    For “live” media like TV and radio, that degree of control isn’t there. Especially since I like music, news, and maybe occassionaly a little comedy in the car.

  28. bq. _”Especially since I like music, news, and maybe occassionaly a little comedy in the car.”_

    The I like has nothing to do with your kids. If government and society in general can tell me when I can and can’t smoke, where I can and can’t smoke, with this way of thinking seems to me they should be able to tell you when you can and can’t listen to your radio.

    Oh my – kids in the car – radios on give that man a ticket he can’t do that with kids around!

  29. Matt,

    I think we’re working off two different definitions of a community. In my view, a community is more than the sum of its individual members. It is an entity in itself, with a history, a tradition, a set of values, and a set of morals. It is something into which we are born, which forms us as much as it is formed by us, which nurtures us, and to which we owe a debt of loyalty. That is the reason Aristotle condidered political science the most important science. Political for him meant “of the polis,” and the polis was much more than just a bunch of people who live in the same place. So, yes, I believe a community can indeed have rights.

  30. C’mon folks, let’s argue about what I’m saying here. I explicitly said that I oppose government regulation as passed by the House.

    But that I understand the impulse that led to it, and would be interested in some answer other than Big Brother to what they – and I – see as an issue.

    A.L.

  31. Lyman — I could argue with you on that point, but it would only be a distraction anyway. My point still stands with or without the framers — “might makes right”/”majority rule”, while an internally consistent doctrine, is as diametrically opposed to liberty as despotism.

    Fred — Communities are made up of individuals and shaped by their various actions. Talking about “communities” as some sort of amorphous abstract entity without reference to the individual members of the group is an absurdity with no basis in reality.

    A.L. — Isn’t that what Joe and Jeff have been doing? I second everything they’ve said. Yes it’s an issue, and there are plenty of ways for private citizens to address it which have been pointed out. What exactly are you looking for here?

  32. The REAL problem is not lack of government regulation. It is lack of shame. Since the 1960’s it would seem that shame has been dying. Must we now declare it dead completely? Let’s try to bring it back!

    We can start by asking ourselves “What would mom think?” before we speak or write in public. Maybe we could sell WWMT bracelets or something. Wait a minute… has this already been done?

  33. I can’t protect my daughters from all the garbage out there but I can show them my disdain for it and tell them why I feel the way I do. It works too.
    This is all about money! If it wasn’t making money they wouldn’t be putting it on the tube!
    The power the people have is to close the pocketbook.Then you would see the greedy b*****ds
    cry! Just make sure you don’t have stock in the company first.
    Did Justice Stevens say I could shoot my radio?
    What a maroon!

  34. Might makes right: I go to the radio station with some of my friends and we hang the offending DJ from a lamppost. No criminal charges are filed, because we are “right.” This is often a form of minority rule.

    Majority rule: My friends and I conduct a petition drive, put a referendum on the ballot, the community votes, and both sides are expected to abide by the results, with sanctions (possibly including criminal sanctions) for whomever refuses to abide by it (either the DJ who continues to be offensive or the lynch mob who thinks they should have won the election).

    TJ, I know the the state is nothing but force, every law is backed up by men with guns, blah, blah, blah, but there’s still a difference between a mildly oppressive democracy that limits porn on the public airwaves with the threat of a fine and a police state that murders anyone who doesn’t lick the glorious leader’s boots.

    I would have thought that so obvious even a libertarian could understand it.

  35. >>still a difference between a mildly oppressive democracy that limits porn on the public airwaves with the threat of a fine and a police state that murders anyone who doesn’t lick the glorious leader’s boots.

    It’s largely a difference of scale and efficiency, not principle. In the “democratic referrendum” example you give, it’s the Big Guns of the state that make the whole thing work. Otherwise either the DJ could tell you and your majority to stuff it, or you’re back to lampposts again.

    With “majority rule”, the violence has been subcontracted out to the police by the “secret band of robbers and murderers” (voters). That way the voters don’t have to get their hands dirty with the actual business of forcing people to obey.

  36. To a certain extent you do have some protections that don’t invoke the First Amendment. An ad for an obscene movie on a billboard — not to mention the, ahem, act of congress it describes — is commercial speech and is subject to a different level of regulation on that basis — also, a sign or public display also runs into zoning laws (sign ordinances, &c.). There is also a body of case law allowing zoning restrictions on porn shops that probably applies as well.

    There’s also the whole thing about FCC licensing of TV and radio which also may regulate broadcast content in a way that print media could not be.

    PS. Wanna see what happens when you hand notions of public morality over to bureaucrats? Here’s San Francisco’s “nanny state”:http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/gate/archive/2005/02/08/cstillwell.DTL and — you won’t believe these unless you read them — its “protecting cats against mice”:http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2005/02/17/EDGH1BA4P81.DTL and its “doghouse zoning ordinance”:http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/01/07/BAG3UAMJ1O1.DTL.

    Ain’t a pretty sight, is it?

    “Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule for what we are to read, and what we must believe?” — Thomas Jefferson to N. G. Dufief, 1814

    “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, then it will protect all of you. Because I’m the worst.”
    –Larry Flynt

  37. Except that, as I pointed out above, the First Amendment is now protecting Larry Flynt but not an organization that wants to run an effective political ad in the 60 days before a federal election. Which makes me wonder, if I’m not protected, why should I want Larry Flynt to be protected?

    Thank you TJ, for making exactly the argument I had already anticipated in my post, and demonstrating why I can’t call myself a libertarian. I’m no friend of tyranny or intrusive government, but there certainly is a difference in principle between soft consensual “tyranny” and Kim Jong Il.

  38. >>Thank you TJ, for making exactly the argument I had already anticipated in my post, and demonstrating why I can’t call myself a libertarian.

    To be fair to the libertarians, I’m not one. I’m an anarchist. So you can go ahead and call yourself a libertarian without fear of being mixed up with people like me. :-)

    >>Except that, as I pointed out above, the First Amendment is now protecting Larry Flynt but not an organization that wants to run an effective political ad in the 60 days before a federal election.

    Yep. The campaign rules suck.

  39. True enough, two wrongs don’t make a right.

    But I guess I’m not inclined to see regulating porn/obscene broadcasting/etc. as a “wrong” in and of itself; I’m opposed to it only to the extent that protecting libertinism helps to protect liberty. But if liberty isn’t being protected, I can’t find any reason to care about libertinism.

  40. Just for the record, I don’t want to see porn broadcast on my TV set either.

    However I don’t want to see the government regulate TV content when I can do it myself by using TV rating systems and content blocking devices. TV Watch, which may be found “here”:http://www.televisonwatch.org/, was founded to help American TV viewers exercise the liberty they already have to choose for themselves what to watch on TV.

    This is but one of many examples of how government should not regulate something that we already have the power to control.

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